Cycle 3 – Item 343
13 (Thu) December 2012
at Persian Palace
-Hyehwa, Jongro, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
Project 30/30/30: 43 of 45 (see also 45/45/45)
Throughout the past November, I challenged myself to eat 30 dishes from 30 countries over the course of 30 consecutive days – and succeeded. I will continue the project until I run out of dishes or countries or restaurants or steam or money, aiming for 50.
Iran (Persia) is the 43rd country.
Persian Palace is a Persian restaurant. Perhaps again “the only one in Korea, as far as I know,” a common theme among many restaurants in this project.
The restaurant is located near Daehakro (대학로) – a neighborhood home to many small theaters and museums, popular among students attending one of several universities in the area, though not known for international cuisine (Korean college students tend to eat cheap Korean food). The restaurant’s front door directly faces the entrance to Sungkyunkwan University, making it the first thing that anyone sees when exiting the campus.
The customer base is primarily local, a fact noted on the menu in explaining that the style of the food has been altered to accommodate local preferences.
The menu items seemed to associate generically either with the Middle East (e.g., kebab) or South Asia (e.g., curry), rather than Iranian cuisine specifically; then again, the menu does classify kebab as “Persian,” as some historians would agree.
As suggested by the restaurant’s many appearances on TV – screen shots from various programs plastered on the walls of the foyer and on the menu – Persian Palace has become quite famous, especially for its spicy curries, or rather the spiciness of its curries.
According to the menu, dal-adas curry provides additional health benefits beyond the basic nutritional value of the lentils. “In Persian traditional medicine from ancient time is recommended for anemic patients. Also improves beauty of skin and makes brain healthy.” The claims must be true because the owner started out in Korea to “inter” at a medical school here and now calls himself “Dr. Shapour.
I had ordered was some kind of Persian liquor, which tasted like spiked lemonade, so I asked Dr. Shapour if it contained arrak, a distilled alcohol that I’d learned about in Sri Lanka. He got really excited, claiming that no customer in over 20 years of the business had ever before inquired about the drink, went behind the counter and brought out a bottle of Persian arrak. He gave me a shot on the house but wouldn’t give me any more, not even at a price. It occurs to me now that maybe the arrak was produced decades ago in Persia, before the Iranian Revolution – I’m thinking that alcohol is probably prohibited in Iran – thus making it invaluable.
From a culinary perspective, the curry was just okay but disappointingly familiar. Aside from the lentils, the sauce itself was reminiscent of the mild and sweet Japanese-style curry ubiquitous throughout Korea, an impression further supported by the medium grain rice that came with it. The main difference was in the heat; we ordered level 2.5 (“For Foreigners, as Spicy as chilly”), which didn’t register at first but eventually built up to a dull burn after a few bites. A decent bargain at 10,000 won for the set.
To up the Persian experience, if only nominally, I’d eschewed the Indian naan on the menu in favor of the Persian naan, which turned out to be dry and crumbly and flavorless. To be fair, Dr. Shapour had tried to me steer me towards the Indian version.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN KOREA)